Cuenca, Ecuador

I’ve enjoyed my two full days here in Cuenca.  It has been listed as the most inexpensive place in the world to retire.  The thought crossed my mine when I read that but it crossed it pretty fast and was gone.

Cuenca is a city of about 420,000 people and with the outlying area the population is close to 750,000.  It’s about the size of Buffalo, NY, if my memory serves me correctly.  I arrived Tuesday evening about 7:30 and found my way to Hostal Macondo.  I had made a reservation via email while sitting at the Quito airport.

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It’s located very near downtown.  The place is pretty nice for $35 a night including taxes and a continental breakfast.

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It’s secure.  The front door is always locked and the folks who run it speak English enough to deal with all the visiting foreigners…US, Netherlands and Germans are the ones I’ve met.

Wednesday morning I arranged for a city tour to get the feel of the place.  The guide picked me up at 9am and then we picked up two young girls at a nearby hotel.

Anyway, it was just the three of us.  Our first stop was La Turi.  An overlook for the city.

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Then we drove around the city looking at neighborhoods and various buildings.  Following that we headed to the Homero Ortega Panama Hat Factory.  You see, Panama hats aren’t made in Panama.  They are made in Ecuador.  They got the name Panama hats because they were originally sent to Panama to be sent around the world.  Thus, because they were shipped from Panama they became Panama hats.

Anyway, the hats are made by ladies in the rural areas and come to the factory to be finished.  In a museum area of the factory, they show the steps the hats go through to become finished…from being made by ladies in the rural area who probably don’t look like the young lady in the museum.

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The edges are rough when they arrive here but are trimmed, ironed, bleached if necessary to become whiter, dyed if necessary and laid out to dry.

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Not only to they make hats, they make purses and they’ve even made a wedding dress including the flower bouquet.

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All made from palm leaves.  Hats made here range in price from $25 to $1050.  They come in a variety of styles but the most common are those seen on many of the people around town but especially, the ladies.

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After the hat factory tour, we hit a couple of cathedrals.

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The second one is the new cathedral and the alter is made of wood and covered in gold.

We also visited the Museum of Modern Art.  That didn’t take me long to move through. and then we did a walking tour of downtown and visited one of the Mercados.

Last night, I went to dinner at a very interesting place.  Well, the place wasn’t as interesting as the menu.  (Okay, Ashley, you can stop reading this to Alex.)  You see my grandson has a pet guinea pig and that’s what I had for dinner.  You have to call an hour ahead of your reservation for it to be prepared.

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If you’ve ever had roast pig, the skin tastes like “cracklin’s” and the meat tastes a lot like dark meat chicken.  So I told my daughter in an email, that “when Zebra dies, we’re not going to bury him, we’re going to grill him.”  Don’t tell Alex!

This morning when I went for breakfast, there were two juices to choose from.  A berry juice and a Babaco juice.  It was light colored but I’ve never heard of babaco so I asked.  This is what it looks like.

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The inside is a lot like a melon.

Anyway, this morning I headed out to shoot a lot of the flavor of Cuenca in the downtown.  Here’s an assortment of pictures.

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I also spent a lot of time wandering through this market.

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Finally, there is a hummingbird that resides at the hostal.  It seems to be pretty comfortable with people and lets you get very close.  I have two shots of it.  One on a metal rail and the other on its nest.

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I leave tomorrow morning for Quito and then a couple of hours by bus to Otavalo.  I expect to be there three days and will have something new soon.

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